No, it’s not “Darwin’s Law”

darwinThis one’s been irritating me for a while.

First some antisocial yokel with a poor education and possible low intelligence, along with their peers, decides to flout social distancing or isolation protocols, and stomp out into a densely packed public space in the middle of a viral outbreak as a form of ill-informed protest. The response? Someone sneers “oh well, that’s Darwin’s Law, isn’t it?”, as if the spectacle of social irresponsibility was evidence that an ironic social Darwinism was selectively afflicting the right wing.

Aside from being conspicuous mostly coming from lefties who aren’t supposed to be in for that kind of eugenic fantasy, supposed irony not withstanding, it barely stands up to scrutiny. Natural selection doesn’t work like that.

Put simply, if alleles for a hereditable trait give an organism a reproductive advantage in a given environment, then through that increase in reproduction the hereditable trait will flourish compared to its competing alleles that don’t share the advantage, or don’t possess it as strongly. Conversely, alleles that confer a reproductive disadvantage inhibit their own reproduction, comparatively speaking.

The end result: the genetic makeup of a population shifts towards being more conducive to reproduction within a range of environmental settings.

But there’s no Trumpist bleach-drinking allele, nor an allele for politically particular cabin fever. As far as I know, there’s no Florida Man allele either.

Perhaps then, what people mean is a more general “allele for stupid white trash-like behaviour”. That seems to be the inference right? Leaving aside the questionable politics of eugenic fantasy and classism, this still doesn’t translate to even half-decent Darwinian speculation.

Any allele (or alleles) that purportedly predisposes people to bad life decisions of the redneck kind may, hypothetically, in addition to life-threatening acts of social disinhibition, also predispose the redneck organism in question to contribute to an overabundance of unplanned pregnancies, and hence an abundance of descendants. So even if the entire population of the genetically redneck were infected with a pandemic infection due to genetically predisposed behaviour, if the mortality rate were more than offset by an associated increase in fecundity, then there’d be a resultant net evolutionary advantage, not a disadvantage to said allele (or alleles).

None of this considers the practical epidemiology either. There’s nothing to say that after a day at the 5G-Conspiracy Theorist Congregation, a Southern Neo-Brownshirt won’t go on to protest educated multiple “Libruls”, in person, and with much spittle-flecked gusto. There’s nothing to say they won’t travel back to their communities to infect more sensible neighbours through further acts of neglect – that the spread of the disease won’t go on to infect and kill indiscriminately regarding politics or intelligence.

Ask yourself; frontline workers – nurses, doctors etc. – how many of them are of of above average intelligence and education? What happens if they have to take care of sick protestors and get infected themselves? It’s hardly self-evident that this or any other viral pandemic is going to selectively exterminate the witless and their descendants.

So yeah, smarmily claiming “it’s Darwin’s Law” is hardly the best way to differentiate yourself from the ranks of the ignorant. It also isn’t a great way of differentiating yourself from an asshole.

If you have already, please re-consider before trotting off this nonsense again.

~ Bruce

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